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The Problem With Syria
Israel - Middle East
Friday, February 24, 2012
Alf Cengia

While the ''resistance movement'' in Syria gives no indication of giving up its quest to oust Bashar al-Assad; likewise the latter gives no sign of relinquishing his position of power.  We are heading towards the twelfth month of the civil uprising with no apparent end in sight.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 5,400 Syrians have lost their lives last year as a result of the protests, while Saudi Arabia reckons the current mortality rate is at least 7000.  Such is the gravity of the Syrian conflict that various Western groups have called for some sort of support for the resistance movement before the situation develops into outright civil war.

While most of the calls fall short of endorsing US military involvement, both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham feel something must be done to help the rebels.  McCain believes it can be achieved through the Arab League while Graham thinks it is “shameful” for the US to not have a prominent role in aiding the rebel forces.

In direct contrast to this, China has already accused the West of “stirring civil war in Syria” and two Iranian naval ships have docked at the Syrian port of Tartous.  According to China's Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily:

"If Western countries continue to fully support Syria's opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention."

I guess there’s some truth to that old maxim that you can’t please everyone at the same time.

Interestingly, former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel, Edward Walker believes that Bashar al-Assad is “a relatively weak guy” who has “a lot of very strong people around him”.  He notes – perhaps ominously – that, “Those people realize that if they give up, they are dead.”

In a 2011 interview with Arab media source asharq alawsat, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Al-Shaqfa claimed that Bashar al-Assad was mentally unstable. He alleged that Assad’s father had sent his son to London for treatment for mental illness.  Apparently there isn’t any love lost between the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Assad family.

One reason for that might be because of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad’s “bloody handling” of the Muslim Brotherhood insurgency back in the early 1980s – as one source puts it.

In fact according to Wiki, the president’s brother, Rifaat al-Assad, wrote in a newspaper column that the government was prepared to "sacrifice a million martyrs" (over a tenth of Syria's population at that time) in order to stamp out "the nation's enemies". (Emphasis mine)

Wiki goes on to state:

“On 7 July 1980, the government passed a law making membership in the Brotherhood punishable by death. Typically, however, the administration practiced indiscriminate, collective punishment: in August, the army executed 80 residents of a block of flats in response to an attack on soldiers stationed in Aleppo. In April 1981, the army executed about 400 of Hama's inhabitants, chosen among male loyalists over the age of 14. This was as a retribution after a failed terrorist attack on an Alawite village near Hama.” (Emphasis mine)

Nothing seems to have changed.  This is what we are seeing occur once again and history should remind us of the Assad legacy.  He’s not going to simply walk away.

But then there’s another obvious problem.  If and/or when Bashar al-Assad eventually gets ousted – who is going to fill the gap?

We should, again, take note of what has transpired with recent regime changes in the Middle East.  What was the nature of their replacements?  Who really motivated the insurgencies?  Was it really means to the masses tired of the infringement by Islamic hegemony on their human rights?

What are the chances of removing Bashar al-Assad without a catastrophic event for Syria, and replacing his regime with a more equitable governing body?

Writing for National Review Online, Jon Rosenthal shares some thoughts about new evidence that has come to light regarding the dynamics behind the Libyan Rebellion.  He asserts:

“The violence of the ‘protests’ is hardly surprising, given what we now know about the involvement of the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in the rebellion. At least three al-Qaeda-linked militants who had at one time or another been in U.S. custody played leading roles in the anti-Qaddafi uprising.”

He goes on to demonstrate that the violence wasn’t spontaneous and that by the mid nineties the LIFG had already formulated a plan to destabilise the Quaddafi regime using the very methods orchestrated in Feb 2011.

But whether certain groups were formerly involved in initiating the Syrian insurrection is less important than whether or not this conflict will grant these terrorist groups an opportunity to entrench themselves in Syria.  Already there are concerns that this might well be the case.

Recent reports have raised the spectre of the probability that al-Qaeda may have already infiltrated the Syrian opposition.  Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, believes al-Qaeda “likely executed” the bombings in Syria’s largest city Aleppo.  Two suicide bombers in explosives-packed vehicles struck security compounds killing 28 people and wounding another 235.

Clapper stated that the two bombings in Damascus and the Aleppo explosions “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda-like attack.”  He added that the Iraqi network affiliate “is extending its reach into Syria.”

Another warning comes from Aljazeera which asks, “Is Syria’s Uprising Being Hijacked?” In that article, Walid Phares, an adviser to the anti-terrorism caucus in the US House of Representatives, claims that:

"Al-Qaeda was present in Syria before the revolt began .... The regime itself had aided, not probably al-Qaeda directly, but Salafi jihadists across from Syria into Iraq [to] fight with the insurgents in Iraq ....Washington doesn't believe that al-Qaeda is leading [the insurgency], but believes that al-Qaeda is trying to take advantage of the long-term crisis that exists today in Syria."

The question on my mind is how will this affect Israel?

Consider that as soon as Israel retreated from Gaza they were immediately and daily bombarded with missiles from that area.  Likewise, the Golan is both a disputed and strategic area for Israel’s defense.

There isn’t any way to avoid the fact that Bashar al-Assad cannot indefinitely sustain military response against the rebellion.  He will either lose government in some catastrophic manner or become progressively weaker as a result of this process.

Who would replace him and what about Al-Qaeda on the Golan? Israel’s enemies will be keenly eyeing the Golan Heights as an ideal place to launch missile attacks.

We can be sure that Israel is closely monitoring the situation.

About Alf Cengia

Last week: Eyes Wide & Deliberatly Shut



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